Yesterday’s post about Bill Davis and the defense generated some good discussion in the comments section. Some of you wondered why the defense can’t be a top unit, even with Kelly’s playing style. There was also talk about what the expectations should be for the defense.
I’ve written about this a few times. If you go back to last year’s Eagles Almanac, which I assume all of you bought (right???), I wrote in there about how the defense would need to be looked at beyond just yards and points. Yards per play is a stat that should be looked at. Points per play is a stat that I don’t think anyone keeps track of but maybe someone should. Takeaways are critical. Situational defense is critical.
The Eagles were dead last in the NFL in time of possession last year. They played the most snaps on defense. You simply can’t post great numbers in that type of a situation. Can you be a great defense if you don’t post great stats? That’s an interesting question. I lean toward “no” because you would need to have some crazy good unusual stats in order to make that argument.
Cincinnati and New Orleans were the only 2 teams to finish in the Top 10 in offensive and defensive yards. They were 2nd and 3rd in the league in time of possession. The offense and defense worked in concert. The Saints defense came out of nowhere to have a great year. Give Rob Ryan and his guys credit, but also recognize that they faced the fewest plays in the entire league (943). That is 207 fewer plays than the Eagles. It is the equivalent of playing 3 less games. If you look at yards per play, the Saints defense comes in 10th overall while the Eagles are at 20th. In terms of yards, the Saints were 4th and the Eagles 29th. Welcome to the new NFL.
Chip Kelly is an offensive coach. The team is always going to be slanted to the offense. So it is interesting to wonder how good the defense can be. Kelly has put resources into the defense so it isn’t like he’s ignoring it. Kelly wants a defense that can help the team win games. And really that is the key. The Eagles need a defense that works for them and what they do.
At Oregon Kelly had a defense that was among national leaders in takeaways, Red Zone defense and sacks. How did the 2013 Eagles do in those stats?
* The Eagles had 37 sacks, which was 20th in the NFL.
* The Eagles had 31 takeaways, which was tied for 3rd in the league.
* The Eagles were 12th in the league in Red Zone defense.
You can see that the team can do what Kelly wants. Improving the pass rush is a key. For a team that played with a lead as much as they did, 37 sacks isn’t enough. The Eagles did get good pressure at times and forced several intentional grounding calls, but they still need more sacks. They need to punish opposing QBs.
This is where Marcus Smith, Travis Long, Joe Kruger and Taylor Hart come into play. They should offer better depth. One of the ways to help a pass rush is to send waves of players after the QB. Fresh legs can make a difference in the 4th quarter of a game. Having better competition and depth at CB also should help the pass defense.
The defense has the potential to do what Kelly needs. We have to wait and see what kind of progress the unit makes.
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While we did see progress in 2013, we do have to point out that the defense still had some hiccups. Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton lit the team up. That’s not good.
And there were some favorable circumstances. The Eagles didn’t have to face Aaron Rodgers. They played Calvin Johnson in a blizzard. Eli Manning had a nightmare season. RGIII was struggling in a major way.
I think there are reasons to be optimistic, but let’s be careful as well. The defense still has a long way to go.